Before our time: what next-gen youth feel about 9/11

A man takes a photo at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum near the Tribute in Light in Lower Manhattan, New York, September 9, 2015.REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/ File Photo

The common phrase goes that “everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.”  And, of course, the horrific events of the day would forever etch themselves in the mind of all those who experienced it.  But, what about those in my generation, who hear about the appalling incidents of the day without ever having lived it?  How do the youth remember the tragedy just before our time? And, how do our South Asian identities affect our perception of the dreadful anniversary?  Desi Talk reached out to 5 South Asian American teenagers to answer these questions and more.

UNITED SIKHS’ advisor Gurdip Singh Narula paying respects at the 9/11 Ground Zero Memorial in Manhattan, New York.. Photo: courtesy United Sikhs

Tanvi Ravilla, a Edison, NJ resident, expressed her family’s personal story of the attacks.  She told Desi Talk, “The most recurring story I’m told is my mother’s account of the tragedy that is 9/11. As a young immigrant, recently married to my father, my mom worked in the 7 World Trade Center for a year before the devastation. Standing outside the PATH train station, just 92 feet from the Twin Towers, my mom watched in fear as the first plane hit the World Trade Center. As a kid, hearing her story always brought tears to my eyes, but as I grew older, I learned to be thankful for my mom’s safety as I recognized that others lost family, friends, and loved ones. Many of my teachers’ family members and friends’ parents were affected by 9/11, as well as the tens of thousands of people victimized. I believe that the shared fear and sadness connect us in recognizing the need for unity despite the extremism meant to attack the structures that symbolize our nation.”

Aneira Kalahasti is a senior at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, NJ. PHOTO: Aneira Kalahasti

Aneira Kalahasti told her family’s story as well. “I remember the stories my mom would tell me when I was little, how after 9/11 the world for brown people had changed. We had all become categorized into one group: terrorists. Especially us Sikhs. My mom used to tell me how my uncles who wore turbans were often harassed when walking down the street because people associated the turban with terrorist.”

Building on Kalahasti’s narrative about the impact that 9/11 had on the Sikh community, Arshdeep Singh said, “As a Sikh American, I had not experienced 9/11 myself, but have heard first hand stories from my uncle. He had come here on a visa trying to make a career and was not able to find a well paying job. Many employers, neighbors, his friends and social media as a whole had discriminated against people who covered their head. My one piece of advice to all of those who are experiencing discrimination based on their faith and race, is to preserve the culture for future generations, no matter how hard it gets. There will be many hardships that you will face. Have faith in God and never give up!”

Arshdeep Singh(18) is a freshman at Rutgers University. PHOTO: Arshdeep Singh

Simrah Razvi, a senior at Wardlaw Hartridge in Edison, said, “as a Muslim living in America, I have experienced first hand Islamophobia due to stereotypes caused by 9/11. The first time I ever experienced Islamophobia was when in 3rd grade, we were watching a video about the 9/11 attack that occurred in New York City. After the video was done, a classmate screamed in my face ‘your people bomb other people.’ After that I always felt that eyes were on me when the topic was brought up, so I didn’t mention the fact I was Muslim until high school came around. I became more confident within my own identity and I am the proud leader of the Muslim Student Alliance of my school.” She then expressed her gratitude to Desi Talk to share her story.

A single white flower is left on one of the panels containing the names of the victims of the attacks on the first day that the 9/11 Memorial
was opened to the public at the World Trade Center site in New York, September 12, 2011. The area is opening to the public the day after the
10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.REUTERS/Mike Segar
Vikram Chulliparambil, 17 year old senior from Westfield, NJ. PHOTO: Vikram Chulliparambil

“My memory of 9-11 was limited, as I was born later in 2005. Although, the heartbreaking stories I heard were from eavesdropping my parents’ conversations from the top of the stairs inspired in me a fraction of the fright that millions felt on that day.  Visiting the 9/11 memorial museum opened my eyes about the dreaded day no American wants to live again. The echoes within the museum remind me that the impact of history rescues far beyond the boundaries of time and generations” says Vikram Chulliparambil, a senior at Westfield High School.

As another phrase says, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  So, as we pass the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 massacres, we must continue to tell stories.  Tell the stories of those impacted by the attacks, both those who suffered  at the towers and at the hands of the discrimination that followed. Never forget, and, above all, as Singh said, never give up.



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